Phone: 08 8984 9137
Location: Tropical Ecology Research Facility, Middle Point Village, Northern Territory
I have a diverse range of research interests in evolutionary biology and behavioural ecology borne out of a passion for the natural world and evolutionary theory. I am fascinated by asking evolutionary questions of animal behaviour and developing and testing theories in areas such as sex allocation, sexual selection, mating strategies, sociality and cognition.
My PhD research focuses on comparative cognition in cane toads. Cognitive traits such as learning, memory, decision-making, and the ability to respond to sensory cues are essential for survival tasks such as locating food and water, avoiding predators, finding shelter, and finding and attracting mates. Cognitive traits and the flexibility to problem-solve, learn and make decisions are important for dispersal and adaptation to novel environments. Very few studies have examined cognition in amphibians and to date, no studies have examined cognitive traits in amphibians in the context of dispersal and invasion. The spread of the cane toad across Australia provides a powerful model system to examine amphibian cognition, the rapid evolution of cognitive traits in a successful invasive species, and variation in cognitive traits across populations that are exposed to different environments and selection pressures. An ability to adjust to novel environments may be vitally important for dispersal and invasion success (in cane toads as in other species), and yet almost nothing is known about these traits in invasive taxa.
I am comparing cognitive abilities of cane toads from different populations across the species’ invasion range in Australia using a combination of laboratory and field-based research. This includes experiments with field-caught adults from across the invasion range, as well as with common-garden-raised offspring from these field-captured adult toads. This combination of research methods will enable me to explore the evolution (and potentially, adaptive significance) of cognition in cane toads, and to disentangle environmental effects from heritable shifts in these traits.
Originally from the UK, I moved to Tasmania in 2007 where I completed my undergraduate degree (and spent many happy days hiking in the Tassie wilderness).
For my Honours year, I really got to indulge my love of theory and behaviour by investigating the interaction of temperature and female body condition on sex allocation in the viviparous spotted snow-skink (Niveoscincus ocellatus).